Iceland 2021 – Exploring More Reykjavik & Puffins

I finished off my Iceland trip by spending the remaining few days exploring more of Reykjavik and going to see some Puffins on the island of Lundey. During my last few days I visited the National Theatre of Iceland, Harpa, National Museum of Iceland, Iceland University, Nordic House, Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral, Magic Ice Bar, Le Kock Restaurant, and I also took a boat to see the Puffins on the nearby island of Lundey.

National Theatre of Iceland

The National Theatre of Iceland is a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. The building was built in 1950, and showcases Samuelsson’s beloved basalt columns. Another building similar to this is the University of Iceland’s Main Building, also designed by Samuelsson.

Iceland University

The University of Iceland’s Main Building was designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. It was completed in 1940, and is very similar in design to the National Theatre of Iceland. I love the use of the basalt columns!

Harpa

The Harpa Concert Hall was opened in May 2011. The distinctive building features a coloured glass façade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland. It was designed by Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The structure was originally supposed to be a part of a large development including a 400-room hotel, luxury apartments, retail area, restaurants, car park, trade centre, etc. however due to the 2008 world financial crisis the development was changed into a concert hall.

National Museum of Iceland

The National Museum of Iceland was established in 1863, and has been in its present location since 1950. The building is an Art Deco style building. Inside the building there are three floors, with the basement featuring photography from Spessi, and the second and third floors featuring historic artifacts from Iceland’s history. In a nutshell Iceland’s history began in the 800’s when Viking explorers from Norway settled the land. In the 930’s the chieftains had established their own form of governance, called Althing, making it one of the world’s oldest parliaments. In the early thirteenth century internal conflict arose, effectively ending the Icelandic Commonwealth. Norway, in turn, was united with Sweden in 1319 and Denmark in 1376. All the Nordic states were united in one alliance, called the Kalmar Union, which lasted between 1397 and 1523, however after its dissolution, Iceland fell under Danish ruling. The Danish-Icelandic ruling in the 17th and 18th centuries was crippling to the economy, which resulted in immense poverty and population decline, which was further hampered by several natural disasters including the “Mist Hardships”. Iceland remained part of Denmark, however in keeping with the rise of nationalism around Europe in the 19th century, and independence movement emerged. The Althing, which was suspended in 1799, was restored in 1844, and Iceland once again gained sovereignty after World War 1 on December 1st 1918, however shared the Danish Monarchy until the end of World War 2. Due to the island’s strategic position in the North Atlantic, the Allies occupied the island until the end of the war, with the United States taking over occupation duties from the British in 1941. Following World War 2 Iceland experienced large financial growth, largely due to fishing. The 2008-2011 financial crisis hit Iceland hard, however has since somewhat recovered.

Nordic House

The Nordic House was opened in 1968 and features cultural events and exhibitions, and even features a library with a collection of over over 30,000 items in seven languages, although oddly most are not in Icelandic. The modern style building was designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. A unique feature of the building is it’s unique shape of the roof, which echoes the range of mountains in the distance. Inside the building almost all the installed furnishings, lamps, and furniture are designed by Alvar Aalto.

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral

Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral is a Lutheran Church in Reykjavik that took 41 years to be built; starting in 1945 and was finished in 1986. The church stands 75 metres (244 feet) tall, and is one of the tallest structures in the country. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–1674), author of the Passion Hymns. The architecture styles are a blend of expressionist neo-gothic, brutalism, and art deco. From up-top you have a beautiful unobstructed view of the entire city, including the close-by Reykjavik Airport, which I watched some planes land at.

Magic Ice Bar

The Magic Ice Bar is a bit of a tourist trap, however is a neat experience if you want to experience some ice sculpture art, have some very chilled alcoholic beverages, and hang out with friends then this is the place for you. Being a solo trip I found it quite lame, but the ice sculptures were neat.

Le Kock Restaurant

The Le Kock Restaurant serves a bunch of delicious items on its menu, including the “Dirty Harry” burger which is comprised of a grilled beef patty, bacon, mushroom “bomb”, pickled red onions, chipotle sauce, romaine salad and crispy onions, served on a Deig potato roll. I also had a side of chiptole potatoes. I highly recommend this place!

Puffins – Island of Lundey

On my final day in Iceland I took a tour with a company called Special Tours. The tour cost $59 CDN and was very well planned. We departed at 11:00am on August 20th and went to the island of Lundey, where there was thousands of Puffin’s getting ready for winter. I managed to get a few candid shots of the beautiful birds, including some with fish in their mouths. This was the last day of the year for the tour, and I was told its way livelier in the months of June and July.

This concludes my Iceland trip, however check back frequently as I’m always up to new adventures. I still have quite a few hiking adventures that I’ve taken, which I’ve yet to post. I still plan an Eastern Europe road trip when it’s safe to do so, and also plan on visiting Norway and Bali.

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Iceland 2021 – Landmannalaugar Trail Hike

Landmannalaugar Trail has been a dream of mine for years, and was the main reason for my 2021 trip to Iceland. The trail is 55km long and starts in Landmannalaugar and ending in Thorsmork. The trail typically is completed in 4 days, however I completed it in 2 days. I was actually going to tack on the Thorsmork to Skogar hike called the Fimmvörðuháls Trail, however the weather deteriorated to the point where my safety was compromised so I pulled the plug early, more on that later.

My first day started early at 530am, as I had to catch a 630am bus to Landmannalaugar. I woke up, had a quick sandwich that I had bought the previous day and stored in my fridge, grabbed some coffee from the downstairs lobby, and caught a scooter to the Reykjavik Bus Terminal. At the terminal I grabbed my hiking bag and waited for the bus that I had pre-booked. It’s important to note that you should book the Highland Bus (Reykjavik Excursions) well in advance, as these seats can fill up days or weeks in advance since this hike is so popular. I paid about $60 CDN for a return trip.

The bus was on time and took about 4 hours, with a 45 minute break halfway along the journey at Hella (Kjarval Verslun) for a bathroom break, where you could also buy coffee and baked goods. I picked up a coffee and used the bathroom. The bus arrived in Landmannalaugar early at about 10:45am (scheduled time was 11:15am). Upon arrival I cooked one of my dehydrated meals for lunch with my JetBoil stove and talked with this lovely couple from Toulouse, France.

The hike starts off with a moderately steep bunch of switchbacks. Don’t forget to look back at the Landmannalaugar hut and campsite! After the switchback you head straight through a lava field from an eruption that occurred in 1477 from the Brennisteinsalda volcano. This area is one of the most unique areas I’ve seen because there’s a combination of regular basalt lava blended with numerous shining black obsidian rocks.

After passing through the lava field you’re presented with a breathtaking view of a field and the magnificent Vondugil (Bad Ravines) valley. The surrounding colourful rhyolite mountains are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and look like something out of a painting.

The trail continues climbing elevation towards the Brennisteinsalda volcano. You can see all sorts of steam coming from the mountainside, and tons of small sulfur rocks and hot springs. This part of the hike is a bit strenuous so make sure to take your time while enjoying the views.

The hike continues in a general upwards direction towards Hrafntinnusker Hut, with ever changing geography, most of which looks like its something from an imaginary painting.

Below you’ll see a picture of me at the highest point of the hike. From here on in the geography changes significantly and I start to run into some snow. Yes that’s right… snow in August!

The snow continues for quite some time, until I emerge on another geothermally active area, before continuing onto another snowy area. In this snowy area there was a memorial for a young person named Ido Keinan, who passed away in a blizzard in June 27th 2004. It’s a somber reminder that no matter what time of the year you’re in that you should be prepared for anything. This hit home later on in this hike when the weather deteriorated significantly to the point where I wasn’t able to maintain my body heat. I decided to pull the plug, but more on that later on.

This is probably a good time to mention that there is generally cellphone coverage on more than 50% of the hike with atleast 3G coverage, and sometimes LTE. There’s a few cellphone towers along the way, and some unique solutions at some of the remote huts, which include CB radio’s and repeaters.

I eventually descended towards Hrafntinnusker Hut, the first hut of the hike after Landmannalaugar. I filled up my water bottles with fresh water here, and was able to use the washroom. Something to note on the hiking trail is that most huts have an outhouse which you can use for free, or you can use proper toilets for about $4 CDN. The outhouses were generally acceptable, so I had no issue using them, however there was not hut warden to check the usage of the toilets at Hrafntinnusker Hut, so you might be able to use the nice toilets for free there.

The trail starts to lose some significant elevation after Hrafntinnusker Hut, and the geography changes again to rolling hills with even more snow, before turning back into mountains with some more elevation gain. Make sure to take tons of photos, as this was again another amazing part of the hike.

As the trail continues towards Alfavatn hut the geography changes again, but this time becomes much greener. The green mossy areas show up wherever there is water runoff from geothermally active areas. Apparently the sulfur and other minerals is very desired by the moss.

The descent towards Alfavatn hut is very steep, and while I’m not a huge proponent of poles, I would recommend them in this scenario.

Eventually you’ll come across your first river crossing, which conveniently has a rope in place, which I suspect is required earlier on in the season, however I didn’t really need to use it in late August. I always recommend water shoes as it make river crossings much more enjoyable than stepping on sharp rocks.

Finally you can see Alfavatn hut in the distance. This is usually where most people stop for the night, howver I opted to go a bit further to Hvangill, a much small hut, just a few kilometres away. The reason for my choice, was to make a 4 kilometer shorter day on the second day. It’ll turn out that I was very glad I made that decision the following morning, but more on that later. I stopped for dinner in Alfavatn to have a dehydrated meal for dinner, and I purchased a beer at the “bar” there for about $10 CDN. I felt it was a worthy reward for a days hard work.

Continuing on from Alfavatn there’s a few river crossings, luckily the first few are small enough that there are some wooden bridges to cross, so you don’t have to take off your boots.

About 4 kilometers of minor elevation gain and descent you’ll emerge on Hvangill hut and campsite. The campsites all have stacked rocks around them to block wind. I was thankful for this as the following morning I was woken up around 5am by howling wind. When I arrived at Hvangill I paid the warden $5 CDN to use the shower, and $20 CDN for the camping fee, setup my tent, had a shower, and went to bed.

I struggled throughout the evening to maintain warmth, as I wasn’t prepared for 0° C weather. The weather should have been 8-17° C however a weather front rolled in and caught me by surprised. I wore 4 shirts, and two pairs of pants, and still wasn’t warm enough. I eventually fell asleep and was woken up at 5am by an intense wind. I peered out of my tent and was greeted by some heavy fog. Visibility was probably about 300 metres.

I got ready, packed up my tent and started my journey towards Thorsmork. At this point in time I had decided that I will terminate my hike in Thorsmork, rather than continuing along to Skogar, as the weather was forecasted to get worse throughout the day. The day started out with a large river crossing over a bridge, followed shortly by a significant river crossing without a bridge. The current was fairly strong, so I can’t even imagine what it would have been a month or two prior.

Following the river crossing I walked plenty kilometers over a lava field, before descending into the next camp called Emstrur, where I ate lunch quickly before continuing on. The visibility at Emstrur was less than 100 metres.

The hike after Emstrur started to get geographically interesting with much more green being present as I descended towards Thorsmork. At times the visibility improved, but in general it was quite poor, and quite cold. There were quite a few river crossings that had to be navigated, but most didn’t require me to take my shoes off.

About 4 kilometres away the geography changed again significantly to what resembled farmland, and I saw the occasional sheep. In fact I even scared a sheep that was grazing.

Finally I arrived in Thorsmork, where I caught a 3:15pm bus back to Reykjavik. On the bus ride I met a really nice guy Kyle, his sister named Kaitlynn, and their friend Courtney, who are all from the Boston area. It made for a very enjoyable bus ride back. The buses have to drive through rivers up to 1 metre deep, so they’re specially equipped Mercedes Benz high clearance vehicles, with locking differentials. You can checkout my YouTube video of a river crossing here.

After arriving back in Reykjavik I checked into “Room With a View” hotel, a self service hotel. It’s kind of like an Airbnb place. It was very well appointed for about $200/night. I’ll be here the next two nights.

After checking in I went and picked up my other bag from the Reykjavik Bus Terminal storage lockers, dropped it off at my hotel, and went for dinner at Lebourski Bar next door. I had a Donni Burger and a beer. While I was there a guy spun the wheel on the wall and won ten free beers, which he shared with his friends at the bar.

After dinner I had a shower and got ready for bed. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series.

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Iceland 2021 – Glymur Falls and Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River

Today started off with Dominos Pizza for breakfast, a strong start for the fuel I needed to hike to Glymur Falls, Iceland’s second highest waterfall, which cascades 198 metres to valley below.

After scarfing down my pizza, which I have to note tastes significantly better than Dominos Pizza back in Canada, I grabbed a coffee from the lobby area in my hotel and proceeded to drive about 75 minutes to Glymur Falls. The trail starts off walking relatively flat for about 1.5km through some shale and shrubs until you get to a cave. You descend some stairs through the cave before shortly arriving at the first of two rivers crossings. This is where I ran into Kim and Sander, a travelling couple from Chicago. We ended up taking pictures of each other crossing the river, and stayed with each other for the remainder of the hike. The river crossing has a log and a hand line to assist you in getting across.

After crossing the river the trail starts to get very steep, with some areas where you have to scramble. luckily there are ropes to assist you if required. You can start to see the sheer magnificence of the waterfall cascading to the valley below. There was also quite a few birds perched on ledges and flying down into the valley.

You continue climbing until you get to the top of the waterfall where you cross the Botnsa River for a second time. This time the river was much wider, but was quite shallow. I had to stop and take my shoes off, and put on my water shoes to cross the freezing cold river.

After crossing the river you continue to loop back towards the car, with a fairly steep descent in some areas. I said bye to Kim and Sander and wished them well on the rest of their trip.

I was starting to get hungry so it was time to source some lunch. I drove back to Reykjavik and stopped at a Vietnamese restaurant called Viethouse for some nice hot beef pho.

After lunch I drove about an hour south to Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River, a famous hot spring river where you can soak in the hot water and take in the beautiful views. There’s a parking lot and a restaurant at the base of the hike, where you have to pay a nominal parking fee of about $2 CDN/hour. The 4km hike to the thermal river takes about 1 hour, as you have to ascend 347 metres. Along the hike to the geothermally active portion of the river you are presented with a beautiful view of a fairly significant waterfall.

Upon arriving at the geothermally active portion of the river you’ll notice that there are some wall partitions for you to have a bit of privacy to change into your bathing suit before you jump into the hot water. I’m unsure of the exact temperature but I’d probably place it closer to 40-42°C, as I found it hotter than the Blue Lagoon. I soaked in the river for about 40 minutes before getting changed and headed back to my car to drive back to my hotel.

Tomorrow I’m heading on a three day hike on Landmannalaugar Trail so it was time to pack my bags and drop them off at some rental lockers At the hotel I packed my bags and dropped them off at some rental lockers at Reykjavik Bus Terminal. It was also time to drop off my rental car, so I dropped that off as well. I was getting fairly hungry so I decided to try out a local hot dog stand called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. This is apparently the best place to go for some late night hot dogs if you’ve had too much too drink.

After having a hot dog I figured it was time to try one of the local scooters, since I was so far away from my hotel. I rode back to my hotel and get ready for bed as I have to wake up very early tomorrow morning for a 630am bus to Landmannalaugar. Be sure to check back soon to continue on with my Iceland adventures.

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Iceland 2021 – Blue Lagoon, Waterfalls, Glaciers, and Plane Wrecks

This post is a very special milestone for me as this is my 250th blog post since I started writing in 2016. Today started off fairly early with me waking up around 7am, as I had to get ready for my 9am soak at the Blue Lagoon. On the way to the Blue Lagoon I drove to a local bakery called Bakarameistarinn, where I ordered a coffee and a breakfast sandwich. I was a bit early arriving at the Blue Lagoon, so I sat in my car writing some of my blog, and going through my photos.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field near Grindavik, where I was yesterday. The Blue Lagoon is a series of man-made pools that are filled by water from a nearby geothermal power plant. After the water is used by the geothermal power plant to spin the turbines to generate electricity, it is then passed through a heat exchanger to provide heat for municipal hot water, and then fed into the lagoon. The water’s unique milk blue shade is due to its high silica content. The water forms soft white mud on the bottom of the lagoon, which feels nice on the feet. The water is also very high in salts and algae. The temperature of the water stays between 37-39°C.

The power plant feeding the lagoon was opened in 1976, and the runoff started to make pools. In 1981 a psoriasis patient bathed in the water and noted that the water alleviated his symptoms, and over time the lagoon became a popular place for people to bathe. In 1987 a proper bathing facility was built, and in 1992 the Blue Lagoon company was established. Numerous studies have been conducted in the 1990’s confirmed that the lagoon had a beneficial effect on psoriasis, and a clinic was opened in 1994.

After bathing in the lagoon for a few hours it was time for me continue on with my day. Next stop was two waterfalls next to each other; Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss. Seljalandsfoss drops from over 60 metres above and is part of the Seljalands River, whos origin is from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull. If you feel like getting really wet you can walk behind the falls into a small cave. Gljúfrafoss is a smaller waterfall north of Seljalandsfoss. You can walk right up to the base of the waterfall by following a short trail down a narrow canyon. Make sure to take a picture looking up for a neat perspective.

After visiting the waterfalls I started driving towards the town of Vik, however was distracted by a glacier that I could see off to my left hand side. I decided to stop at Solheimajokull Glacier, and I’m extremely glad that I did. Solheimajokull Glacier is a 11km long outlet glacier that originates from the southwestern part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The glacier has undergone tremendous changes over the last century with measurements of its glacier snout having retreated 977 metres between 1930 and 1969, advancing by 495 metres between 1969 and 1955, and receding by 1312 metres by 2019. In 2011 a lagoon started to form in front of the glacier and has been growing steadily as the glacier continues to melt and retreat. The current depth of the lagoon is about 60 metres.

After visiting the glacier I drove another hour or so to Vik, where I stopped at The Soup Company for lunch. I had the Red Hot Lava bowl, which was a black bread bowl filled with a spicy prime rib soup. After lunch I drove to Vik Church to snap a photo of the beautiful oceanside and the church. This is one of my favourite views that I recall from my 2014 trip to Iceland with my father.

Close by is Reynisfjara Beach, a black sand beach with basalt rock formations. Last time I was here in 2014 with my father it was pouring rain so I didn’t have a chance to take great quality photos. This time it was windy as anything, but at least the sun was shining.

Next up was the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. You used to be able to drive right up to the crash site, however the road was closed many after numerous people got stuck in the soft black sand. The hike there is about 7.4km return, and took me only about 1.25 hours. In November 1973, a Douglas Dakota C-117 airplane was making a return trip to Keflavik airport after delivering cargo to a radar station near Hornafjörður in East Iceland. While flying back, the plane gradually started to lose power and altitude, and were forced to crash land on Solheimasandur. Some speculate that the plane ran out of fuel when the pilot accidentally switched to the wrong fuel tank, while others speculate that the plane crashed because of ice buildup on the wings during a storm. Keeping with the stormy conditions these pilots had to endure I nearly crashed my drone when the windy conditions worsened and started to sweep my drone away from me. I had to run after it a few hundred metres before it pseudo crash landed in the black sand.

It was getting fairly late so it was time for me to start the 2 hour long drive back to Reykjavik. I stopped at Tommi’s Burger Joint for dinner, which was recommended to me by someone the previous day, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

After dinner I went back to the hotel and was ready for bed, as it was nearly 10pm at this point in time. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series where I visit Glymur Falls, and soak in Reykjadalur Hot Springs Thermal River.

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Iceland 2021 – Krysuivik Geothermal Loop & Fagradalsfjall Volcano Eruption

Today marks the second day of my trip. I slept pretty well and wasn’t really suffering from too much jet lag. I did wakeup at about 2am for a brief period of time before going back to bed.

For breakfast I attempted to go to a few bakeries however it was too early and they didn’t have anything besides donuts available, so I went to Subway. First stop of the day was Krysuivik Geothermal Loop, about an hours drive away. Along the way I decided to stop by the side of the road to take some drone shots of the volcanic scenery around me to realize that my memory card had failed… but don’t worry I had a second one… sitting in my work laptop back at the hotel. I drove all the way back to the hotel, picked up the second card and tried again. By now it was already nearly noon! In the distance on this drone shot you can see Fagradalsfjall Volcano’s smoke from it’s ongoing eruption. I’ll be hiking that later today.

Krysuivik Geothermal Loop is a 7.7 kilometer loop in Southwest Iceland the features a lake, and a geothermally active area. It is situated above Seltun, a very colourful Geothermal area below that I had a chance to visit with my father in 2014 when we went to Iceland. The hike starts off right away up a fairly steep hill, gaining 314 metres. Make sure to look backwards so you can see Seltun.

After the large climb you slightly descend to Amarvatn Lake, a very colourful lake, which I suspect is a volcanic crater lake due to the way it looks, however I can’t mind much information on it. A volcanic crate lake is a lake in a crater that was formed from explosive activity or collapse during a volcanic eruption. Dad an I visited one such lake in 2014, called Kerið.

The trail continues around in a big loop, as you can see from above. It offers beautiful views of the mountainous area surrounding it. Along the way I came to the geothermal area, before continuing the loop around the lake.

After completing the hike it was time to grab some lunch. I remember from my 2014 trip with my dad that there was a restaurant called Papa’s that serves delicious pizza in the nearby town of Grindavik. I drove about half an hour to Papa’s, and wow it didn’t disappoint. I had a pizza called Papa’s Surprise, which consisted of pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, jalapenos, garlic, cream cheese, and black pepper. You could even see the volcano erupting from Grindavik!

After having lunch it was time to visit the Fagradalsfjall Volcano eruption (also known as Geldingadalsgos), which has been ongoing since March 19th 2021 at about 9:40pm. This was one of two primary reasons for me to visit Iceland, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. There’s a few dedicated places to park your car for 1000 ISK ($10 CDN). The 3km one-way hike to the volcano takes about 45 minutes and is flat for 2/3 of the way, before entering a series of switchbacks. The view was certainly overwhelming, and was nothing like what I had imagined in my head. You can also view a video I took of the volcano on my YouTube channel here. You’ll also notice that there was a helicopter there, because you can pay some companies to drop you right off at the base of the volcano!

After visiting the volcano I was going to visit the Blue Lagoon, however when I arrived I found out that the tickets were sold out for the day. I booked a 9am ticket for the next day. It was time to drive back to Reykjavik for dinner, about an hour away. I had some beef soup at 101 Reykjavik Street Food, which was recommended to me on one of the travel series I watched a while back. While the presentation wasn’t the best, the soup was delicious, and the beef was so tender.

After dinner I walked around for a bit and took some pictures of one of my favourite churches in the entire world, Hallgrimskirkja. The church is one of Reykjavik’s best-known landmarks, and is the tallest church in Iceland, standing 74.5 metres (244 feet) tall. The church took 41 years to build; starting in 1945, and completed in 1986. The church is a mixture of different architectural styles but is predominantly that of expressionist neo-gothic. I can definitely see some brutalism and art deco mixed in there as well. During it’s construction it was criticized for being too old-fashioned and a blend of too many different architecture types. Inside the church there is a large pipe organ built by German organ builder Johannes Klais from Bonn. There are 5275 pipes arranged in 102 ranks and 72 stop, and they weight approximately 25 tons!

I continued exploring around downtown Reykjavik for a bit before heading back to my hotel to go to bed. Be sure to check back soon for the next installment in my Iceland series. In the next installment I explore the Blue Lagoon, see some waterfalls, see Iceland’s fourth largest glacier, the town of Vik, the basalt formations at Reynisfjara Beach, and hike to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck.

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Iceland 2021 – Reykjavik

Today I embarked on my first trip out of Canada since October 2019. I would have travelled sooner, however the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked havoc on the entire globe for the last 18 months. I’m very fortunate that Canada’s vaccination rollout program occurred as quickly as it did, and I was fully vaccinated by July 2021. Iceland was one of the few countries that I was interested in visiting, that allowed fully vaccinated people to travel there.

This marks my 2.5th time visiting Iceland. I had previously visited Iceland in Summer 2014 with my dad, and I had a brief stopover in 2018 when I completed my France trip, which you can check out here. Getting there was a bit different this time, because usually I fly from Edmonton or Vancouver with Icelandair, however those routes were temporarily paused due to the ongoing pandemic. This time I flew WestJet from Calgary to Toronto, and then Icelandair from Toronto to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. I originally paid $1420 for an economy class return ticket, however I paid an additional $230 to be upgraded from economy class to business class for both of the departure flights. Previous trips to Iceland showed the economy class prices to be about half of what I paid. This is my first time experiencing the new business class seats on Westjet, and Icelandair, since they both refreshed their aircraft during the pandemic. I must say I was very impressed by both.

At the Calgary airport they verified that I had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that I had a negative anti-gen test prior to check-in. The Calgary to Toronto flight was on an older Westjet Boeing 737-800. Roast beef and mashed potatoes were served for dinner, which was actually quite food. Hot meals are a new thing for Westjet since they launched their new business class, but I think they have a hit here. The flight was quite smooth, with exception to the last 45 minutes approaching Toronto, due to a storm in the area.

In Toronto they again verified that I had received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and that I had a negative anti-gen test prior to boarding. The Toronto to Reykjavik flight was on a brand new Icelandair Boeing 737-8 MAX. The new business class seats are adorned in incredibly comfortable grey leather. Their older seats were more a blue leather colour, and were not the most comfortable. An incredibly generously sized dinner was served, which included chicken kababs over couscous and vegetables, alongside some fresh meats and cheese, and a cake for desert. I skipped eating the cake, as I’m not the biggest fan of sweets.

Upon arrival in Reykjavik I grabbed my bag and went through customs, which was very easy, and almost the same as usual, except I had to hand them some paperwork that I had pre-filled online. After exiting the airport I went and picked up my rental car, which was a Kia Picanto from Blue Car Rental. The daily rate was about $200, which is about the same as pre-Covid times.

After picking up the car I started a day of exploring, before I was able to check-in to my hotel at 3pm. First stop was Snorrastofa, a cultural and medieval center named after Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson. I didn’t go inside, as I was just fascinated by the architecture style, which I would characterize as Medieval, and perhaps Art Deco (the white building).

Next stop was Hruanfosser & Barnafoss, two waterfalls located right next to each other, and about a 75 minutes drive North of Reykjavik. Hruanfosser is definitely the cooler looking of the two waterfalls, and is a series of waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming over a distance of about 900 metres out of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field which flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjökull.

After taking in the gorgeous views of Hruanfosser I drove back to Reykjavik to check out the Reykjavik Art Museum Kjarvalsstaðir, one of three art museums run by the same company. This building was opened in 1973 and was the first building in Iceland specifically designed for hosting art exhibitions. Kjarvalsstaðir houses the works of one of Iceland’s most influential and recognized artists, Jóhannes Kjarval. The exhibitions at Kjarvalsstaðir focus primarily on modern art paintings and sculptures. Architecturally the building is considered a great example of Nordic Modernism, however I would say it closely resembles that of some Brutalism traits.

Perlan, a prominent futuristic looking building situated on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill, was the next stop. The site where the building is situated started out in 1939 as a single hot water tank to supply enough pressure to push water up to a 10 story building anywhere in Reykjavik. Over the next two decades five more tanks were built, however were later torn down and six were reconstructed in the later 1980’s. In 1991 the six hot water tanks became the base of Perlan, a building open to the public, housing a planetarium, exhibition of the role of water in Icelandic nature, a photographic exhibition, and “Wonders of Iceland”, which is an exhibition that shows Icelandic nature, glaciers, geysers, and volcanos. The tanks are still in use, and each hold 5 million litres of hot water to supply to city.

Perlan overlooks Reykjavik Airport (RKV), which only serves internal flights within Iceland and to Greenland due to its shorter runway lengths of only 4000 an 5100 feet. The first flight from the airport occurred in September 1919. Regularly scheduled flights started to occur in 1940 by Flugfélag Akureyrar (now Icelandair). The airport in its current form was built by the British Army during World War 2, and originally only had a grass surface. After the war the British Army handed the airport operation over to the Icelandic government. The airport underwent some renovations in 2000. There’s a lot of controversy over the airport as its considered noisy, takes up a lot of useful area near downtown, and poses a safety risk. There’s a few options being considered including leaving the airport as is, demolishing and building a new one close by, or demolishing and moving all flights to Keflavik International Airport.

Close to Perlan is Nautholsvik, a small neighborhood overlooking Reykjavik Airport, which includes a beach, and an artificial hot spring, where hot water is pumped into a man-made lagoon. It provides to beautiful views of airplanes landing, and boats coming and going.

Reykjavik Art Museum Asmundarsafn was the next stop. This is the second of three art museums run by the same company. The building was designed, worked in, and lived in by the sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson. The white dome structure, built between 1942 and 1950, is surrounded by Sveinsson’s sculptures in the garden, and houses his work all throughout on the inside.

It was time to check-in to my hotel, named Hotel Muli. This is a self-service hotel where you’re provided with an entry code to the building and lockbox, where you can obtain your key. The room was newly renovated and had a fairly comfortable bed, as well as a nice rainfall shower. One thing to note about the hot water supply in most of Reykjavik is that it’s supplied by geothermal water, so has a bit of a Sulphur smell. It doesn’t bother me, but is noteworthy to others. I took a three hour nap before continuing on with my daily adventures.

It was time for me to eat some dinner. I walked to Islenski Barinn, which is highly regarded for its well-priced quality focused food. I ordered a Reindeer Burger and a beer. The burger was delicious and reminded me of an even more tender elk burger, which makes sense as they are both from the same family, however elk are typically much heavier than reindeer.

Next door to where I had dinner is the National Theatre of Iceland, a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Icelandic architect Gudjon Samuelsson. The building was built in 1950, and showcases Samuelsson’s beloved basalt columns. Another building similar to this is the University of Iceland’s Main Building, also designed by Samuelsson. I explored that building on a later day, so be sure to check back on a later post.

Close by is Hotel Borg, a beautiful Art Deco hotel that was opened in 1930. The hotel was originally built by Jóhannes Jósefsson, who competed in the 1908 Olympics, travelled around America in a circus, and then after returning to Iceland in 1927 felt like building a luxury hotel.

Next to Hotel Borg is Reykjavik Cathedral, a cathedral church built in 1796, and reconsecrated in 1879 after a large restoration.

Close by is Parliament House, located on Austurvöllur Square. The building was built between 1880 and 1881. Two additions to the building occurred in 1902 and 2002. The main building was built using hewn dolerite, a subvolcanic rock similar to volcanic basalt. Today only a handful of parliamentary items take place in the Parliament House, with most taking place in adjacent buildings.

It was getting late, and I was quite tired so it was time to head back to the hotel for some sleep. Be sure to check back shortly for the next installment in my Iceland series. In the next installment i visit the famous Fagradalsfjall Volcano Eruption, hike the Krysuvik Geothermal Loop, and attempt to visit the Blue Lagoon.

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Kelowna – Restaurants & Attractions

If you’re looking to travel to Kelowna anytime soon you should think about visiting these restaurants and attractions. I recently spent a week here about a month ago and can highly recommend these places! Accommodation this time was at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kelowna. There was a nice pool, hot-tub, and spacious room for an affordable price of $149 CDN/night.

Bouchons Bistro

Bouchons Bistro is an elegant French style bistro that was opened about 15 years ago in the heart of Kelowna’s cultural district. It’s located a stone throw away from the Delta Grand Hotel. They serve authentic French meals such as Cassoulet, Bouillabaisse, and Gratinee Lyonnaise. I highly recommend obtaining a reservation as the restaurant is quite small. Currently there are two two-hour seating times Wednesday through Sunday at 5pm and 715pm. Make sure to take a peek in the bathrooms as there is some hidden naughty artwork!

Mad Mango Cafe

Mad Mango is the place to go for a random selection of delicious Asian and American style dishes. You can go there for breakfast for American style breakfasts, or you can go there for Asian influenced dishes, including Malaysian, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. for lunch or dinner. My personal favourite is the Malaysian Laksa Soup. Hours of operation are 730am-6pm.

Salt & Brick

Salt & Brick is the place to visit if you’re into shared appetizers for your group. The selection changes daily depending on what ingredients the master chef can order. In this particular scenario we ordered a charcuterie board, mussels, a burger, a chorizo sausage, and pickles. This restaurant will not disappoint! Hours of operation are 4-10pm daily.

KRAFTY Kitchen & Bar

KRAFY Kitchen & Bar is my all-time favorite. On the weekend mornings there is the Hip-hop Brunch, and Lunch and Dinner also offer unique meal options. Hip-hop Brunch is Saturday and Sunday 9am-2pm. Lunch is Monday, Thursday, and Friday 11am-230pm. Dinner is Monday, Thursday and Friday 5pm-930pm, as well as Saturday and Sunday 5pm-10pm. My personal favorite is the Truffled Mac & Cheese.

Bohemian Cafe Kelowna

This one is a tough one for me. The food is good, but the service is really bad. I’m usually waiting 30-45 minutes for the cheque after I’m done eating, and even taking the order is pretty painful. If you can look past this the food is quite good. I usually get the Banh Mi Benedict or Banh Mi Sandwich.

Home Block @ Cedar Creek

Home Block is the place to go if you want a decadent 3 or 5 course meal with your partner. The meal selection changes nightly depending on available ingredients. On the day I enjoyed this delicious restaurant I ate Jamon Serrano (fried shishitos, marcona almonds, ham, and pan con tomate) for an appetizer, followed by Slow Roasted Pork Belly for the main course, and finished up with a selection of cheeses for desert.

Truck 59 Cider House

Truck 59 Cidery was established in 2017. and has since become a mainstay staple of the Okanagan Valley. They produce multiple ciders such as their Raspberry Hibiscus, Baptism by Firetruck, Rose, Peach Pie, Raspberry Pear, Cherry and Apple, Bourbon Blackberry, Dry Pear, Classic Dry, and some select limited editions. Hours of operation are 11am-8-pm daily.

Frankie We Salute You!

Frankie We Salute You is the Okanogan Valley’s best plant-based restaurant. All their meals are vegan friendly. I had their Frankie Burger, which was delicious. The burger is a house-made mushroom patty, with miso mustard, tomato, kettle chips, and served with sesame fried or organic greens.

Be sure to check back soon, as I have many hiking adventures backlogged that I’ll post about.

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Floe Lake Hike

Last weekend I went and hiked Floe Lake trail with my friend Matt. The 22 kilometre return hike starts out with bushwhacking through fallen trees, leading to a steady incline for 2/3 of the hike until you reach a bunch of switchbacks. The first 2/3 of the hike is through the burned out remains of the 2013 fire that devastated the area. The switchbacks are slow and steady and are on paper not too difficult; however were somewhat difficult because the snow towards the top was 4-6 feet deep. Along the way we saw a caterpillar and a frog!

After the switchbacks and dredging through the snow for 45 minutes you’re presented with a beautiful mirror reflection of Floe Lake and Floe Peak. Matt and I hangout here for about an hour, enjoying some beer and Red Bull.

On the way back we collected some water from the various waterfalls. I recently purchased a LARQ water bottle and trust the UV-C technology. So far I have not become sick, and trust it’ll keep me safe in my adventures this summer; including Lake O’Hara in July, and Berg Lake in August. On the crossing back I captured a beautiful photo of the first river crossing.

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Saskatoon

Two weeks ago we decided to take a trip to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for the long weekend. We took an extra day off to turn it into a four day weekend. During the 7 hour drive to Saskatoon I ended up having quite a few work phone calls, which made for a quicker trip out. For lunch we stopped at A&W in Oyen.

Accommodation was at the Delta Bessborough, a historic grand railway hotel originally built for Canadian National Railway. The ten-story Chateauesque-style building was opened in 1935. The hotel was designed by Archibald and Schofield, who also designed two other hotels for the Canadian National Railway; Hotel Vancouver, and The Nova Scotian. The hotel features 225 guest rooms, three restaurants, a fitness centre, pool, conference rooms, and a massive waterfront gardens. The 8th floor was closed off for renovations, however we managed to sneak up there to check out what the hotel would have looked like before it was renovated in 2003.

After checking in to our hotel it was time to get some dinner. We walked over to Las Palapas, a Mexican place that was recommended to us. On our way to the restaurant we walked through the historic Nutana neighbourhood. Some of the buildings here were built in the very early 1900’s.

At Las Palapas we shared some tortilla chips as an appetizer. For our main meal I had some tacos, and Julie had enchiladas. We both agreed that the food was excellent.

After dinner we walked down the street to Prairie Sun Brewery for some potent potables. I picked up some Pink Himalayan Salt IPA’s, and Julie picked up some ciders. We walked back to our hotel and spent some time in the pool and hot tub, before crawling into bed and watching some Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime.

The next day we woke up around 8:00am and had breakfast at Broadway Cafe. I had eggs benedict with hashbrowns and Julie had a scrambler without eggs. The food was fairly mediocre, however the 1950’s décor was beautiful, and the staff were very friendly.

After breakfast we drove through the neighbourhood of Varsity View to find the few surviving examples of Art Deco homes that were built in the 1930’s. I had heard that Saskatoon had quite a few examples of these homes still around, however many of them were in bad shape.

After driving through Varsity View we parked the car and walked through the University of Saskatchewan campus. The University was founded in 1907. The original building, The College Building, was opened in 1913 (now declared a National Historic Site of Canada). Since then numerous other colleges were established; Arts & Science (1909), Agriculture (1912), Engineering (1912), Law (1913), Pharmacy (1914), Commerce (1917), Medicine (1926), Education (1927), Home Economics (1928), Nursing (1938), Graduate Studies and Research (1946), Physical Education (1958), Veterinary Medicine (1964), Dentistry (1965), and School of Physical Therapy (1976).

Remai Modern Art Museum

After walking through the University of Saskatchewan campus we drove to the Remai Modern Art Museum. The museum was established in 2009, however has only been in its current building since October 2017. The museum has three floors with two different collections distributed amongst them; the two main collections being the Mendel Collection, and the Picasso Collection.

The entrance is beautiful and modern, with nice leather seats, a fire place, and cool light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

The Mendel Collection is a permanent collection featuring 7700 works by artists including Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Cornellius Krieghoff, and William Perehudoff.

The Picasso Collection, on the second floor, is also a permanent collection. It features ceramics and linocuts by Pablo Picasso, and features 405 linocuts, many of his beautiful wife Jacqueline. Linocuts, also called linoleum cut, are a print made from a sheet of linoleum into which a design has been cut in a relief. An interesting thing to note is that some of Picasso’s designs included 50 lays of linoleum, and if he made a mistake anywhere along the way, he had to start over again.

After visiting the museum we went and got some ice cream from Homestead Ice Cream. I had Saskatoon Berry and Lemon in a waffle cone, while Julie had Licorice and Saskatoon Berry in a cup. If you’re a lover of ice cream you have to eat here!

Western Development Museum

After getting some ice cream we drove to the Western Development Museum (WDM), which was established in 1949, and has been in its present location since 1972. There are technically four WDM’s, located at Moose Jaw, North Battleford, Yorkton, and Saskatoon, but the area of focus is Saskatoon. The Saskatoon one is called 1910 Boomtown, and focuses on the boomtown era of 1910’s, as well as features vintage automobiles, trains, farm equipment, and other memorabilia. There’s a tremendous amount of content to write about this museum, so I’ll release it in a separate post, and eventually link it here.

After visiting the museum we went back to the hotel for a bit to relax, before heading out to dinner at Bon Temps. Bon Temps is an authentic Louisiana Cajun / Creole style restaurant. I had a delicious brisket served with corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, and a jalapeno corn bread. Julie had scallops served with green beans, mashed potatoes, and a jalapeno corn bread. We also had some adult beverages to go along with our meal.

After our meal we walked to the 9 Mile Legacy brewery, which was unfortunately closing in 10 minutes, so they were no longer serving any pints. I picked up two cans to-go, and we walked back to the hotel and went in the hot tub before going to bed.

On our final day in Saskatoon we went to Hometown Diner for Breakfast. I had a breakfast poutine, and Julie had a delicious chicken bacon club sandwich.

After breakfast we drove to the farmers market, which was extremely underwhelming, so we quickly left. Next up was the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo, which was excellent! The zoo is a National Historic Site of Canada (designated in 1990), and was created in 1966. There were over 30 different types of animals on display including Bald Eagles, Burrowing Owls, Great Horned Owls, Grizzly Bears, Lynx’s, Swift Fox (which escaped!), Dingo’s, Pygmy Goats, Bison, Pronghorns, multiple types of Sheep, Alpaca’s, Meerkats, and Capuchin Monkey’s.

After visiting the zoo it was time to grab some lunch. We drove to Odla, which actually happened to be right next door to the Broadway Cafe that we ate at the other day. Odla is a fine example of farm to table. I had a delicious hamburger, which was the BEST hamburger I’ve ever had in my life, and Julie had a grilled vegetable and quinoa plate.

After having our delicious lunch I drove to Crossmount Cider Company, which was a short 15 minute drive south of the city. The craft cidery is built next to a retirement community and overlooks a man-made wetland area, where you can few all sorts of birds while enjoying some ciders. We decided to both get a flight of sample ciders. The cidery was established in 2014.

After visiting the cidery we drove back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit before going to Thirteen Pies Pizza & Bar for dinner. I had a pizza called The Midnight Meat Train, which included sausage, meatballs, bacon, provolone, mozzarella, jalapenos, and tomato sauce. Julie had a pizza called The White Walker, which included roasted mushrooms, provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, white sauce, prosciutto (added extra), and truffle oil. We barely at half of our pizzas before calling it quits because we were full. We packed up our leftover pizza and started to walk back to the hotel. On our way back we both decided that we would give our leftovers to a homeless man who looked fairly hungry. I also snapped a photo of a very cool brutalism building called the Sturdy Stone Centre. The Sturdy Stone Centre, designed by the architecture firm of Forrester, Scott, Bowers, Cooper and Walls, is a 13 story building that was built in 1977. Floors 3 to 7 are used as a parkade, with the remaining floors used as office space.

The rest of the evening we spent watching more of our Amazon Prime series called The Man in the High Castile, as well as some time in the hot tub, before going to bed.

The following day we had breakfast at OEB before driving back to Calgary. I had my favourite dish there, a breakfast poutine called Soul in a Bowl. Julie had some smoked salmon on gluten-free bread.

On the way home we were supposed to stop at the Saskatchewan Sand Dunes, however due to an immense amount of rain the road to the dunes was inaccessible. I only made it about 100 feet before getting stuck, needing a tow out from a friendly Saskatchewan family.

Well that concludes this series, but be sure to check back soon as I have a trip to Kelowna in a few weeks, as well as plenty of upcoming hikes, including trip to Lake O’Hara in July.

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Spring Hiking – Bears Hump, Cline River Falls, Siffleur Falls

This year I’ve completed 11 hikes so far, including the three that I completed last weekend.

First up was Bears Hump in Waterton Lakes National Park, in Southern Alberta. The hike is a short, but steep grind up 214 metres in only 1.25km. The effort is worth it as you’re greeted with a beautiful view of Waterton, and a view of the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, which was built in 1927. The hike took me only 42 minutes to complete the 2.5km round trip, although expect to take 1-1.5 hours to complete the hike. Today the hike is distinctly different than that of a few years ago, prior the the massive forest fire that rolled through the area in 2017.

The second hike was Cline River Falls, a 3.4km out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of 146 metres. The waterfall was still frozen, and had a bunch of crashing ice sounds as I was walking away from it. Cline River Falls is located in the same area as Abraham Lake, which I’ve visited multiple times in the past few winters. Abraham Lake is a photographers paradise because trapped methane causes frozen bubbles to form under the ice on the lake’s surface. The methane is formed from decaying plants on the lake bed. The methane gas ends up becoming trapped within the ice, in suspension, just below the surface of the lake as it begins to freeze. If you want to see what the area is like in the winter check out my post here.

The third hike was Siffleur Falls, just a ten minutes drive away from Cline River Falls. This hike was the most difficult of the three, albeit still somewhat easy. The hike was 14.2km with a total elevation gain of 369 metres. The hike starts out quite easy, and turns into a moderate difficulty towards the last 30% of the hike.